There is a concept in life (and Guinness advertisements) that fortune favors the bold. The key takeaway, of course, is that while we may not explicitly “make our own luck” as they say, those most willing to take a metaphorical plunge into the great unknown are those who are most likely to flourish. In essence, there’s no potential reward without taking a risk.
To me, this point in the off-season represents the greatest unknown – and therefore the greatest risk – we’ll see during the dynasty year. To that point, NFL free agency hasn’t yet opened, and we’re still months away from the rookie draft. Even the inception of the Alliance of American Football serves to muddy the waters with intrigue, offering yet another outlet for future NFL talent.
Given that, making trades to supplement perceived roster needs becomes little more than pure educated guesswork. We don’t know where free agents and rookies will land, and depth charts now aren’t guaranteed to represent the depth charts in May. The player you acquire in February could see his value fluctuate wildly without he himself gaining or losing an ounce of skill. As we all know, there are two immutable truths about a player’s situation: situation matters, and situation changes.
Continuing, my belief is there exists a fractional subset of players possessing the highest potential for reward, but also the largest amount of risk: impending free agents. In short, we don’t know where they’re going, and their values are more than likely going to change due to that pending landing spot. Much like the stock market we so like to compare dynasty fantasy football to, there’s a massive possibility for impending variance.
Getting back to the first paragraph and subsequent premise for this article, owners who acquire these free agents can see their fortunes enhanced immeasurably, at least relative to the cost. In that spirit, I’ve highlighted a few players below who I believe are worth a look to owners looking to swing for the fences. Of course, this remains part of the equation – in order to receive something, we have to give something as well.
Keeping with the theme, the other half of the transaction can include the type of currency that, seemingly no matter what, gains value during the off-season: rookie draft picks. It’s a fitting mirror image – trading risk viewed negatively (veteran free agents) for risk viewed positively (shiny new toys). Ironically, as Jacob Feldman showed in his previous off-season work, rookie picks actually represent riskier investments (especially in the later rounds), but quite simply aren’t viewed that way when Rookie Fever hits.
Given the totality of the above, included for each player is a brief synopsis of why he makes for a good trade target, as well as a range for compensation (in terms of rookie draft picks). These ranges tack towards the conservative, given most owners’ penchant for preferring rookie draft pick currency. Regardless, they’re meant to highlight the overarching theme that the veteran misfit toys could be had for a lesser cost when it comes to the hot new things.
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Josh Gordon, WR NE
Okay, I’m cheating right off the bat, as Gordon isn’t actually a free agent. That said, there remains a question to be asked with the wide receiver: instead of “where will he land?” it’s “will he play again?” So we’ll proceed nonetheless.
While it wasn’t vintage “Flash” Gordon, the mercurial pass catcher managed to compile a fine 40-720-3 line in the equivalent of 11 games with the Pats. This effort was good for 11.8 PPR points per game, including five games of more than 70 yards in his final eight. For sure, he was a startable WR3 with WR1/2 upside.
Recent reports suggest he may actually (somehow) be reinstated prior to the start of the 2019 season. If so, he would be coming back to a receiving corps lacking no real threat behind Julian Edelman. I get it, we’ve done this dance before, and I won’t blame a single owner for laughing and skipping to the next player. But the key here is your potential trade partner may be thinking the same thing.
Potential Compensation: Late third round pick
Chris Hogan, WR NE
Let’s stick with the Pats receivers, shall we? Hogan wasn’t a hero (see what a did there?) as many expected in 2018. He could only muster a hair over 500 yards in the regular season, and was miserably ineffective in the postseason as well. Now, as an impending free agent, it’s fair to wonder if his relative success over the past couple years was more a byproduct of Tom Brady than anything.
With that said, let’s consider the possibility for upside. Perhaps he stays with New England, who then goes on to lose all-world Rob Gronkowski, along with receiver Phillip Dorsett. This would free up a substantial amount of targets, and Hogan could find himself as one of the prime beneficiaries. For the possible cost, it’s worth the gamble.
Potential Compensation: Late third round pick
T.J. Yeldon, RB JAX
To be clear, Yeldon probably isn’t a bellcow. He’s not going to become the second coming of Le’Veon Bell as many owners were hoping. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a useful player.
Yeldon corralled 171 passes over four years, including 55 in 2018. He also accumulated at least 4.0 yards per carry in three of four years, albeit with limited usage. In short, he exists somewhere in the spectrum between poor man’s starter and rich man’s third-down back.
In his past two years, he was stuck behind first round pick Leonard Fournette, and even his sophomore season yielded a frustrating timeshare with Chris Ivory. Whether this was a symptom of his own ineffectiveness or a byproduct of poor coaching remains to be seen.
If you’re willing to hedge on the latter, Yeldon could be a steal. In a league where Jerick McKinnon received a monster contract despite even fewer credentials than Yeldon, there could be a hotter market than anticipated. For a cheap shot at 200 touches, including a moderate amount of receptions, Yeldon seems like a fine bet.
Potential Compensation: Late second round through early third round pick
Jared Cook, TE OAK
The perpetual tease finally did some good in 2018! He led the Raiders in all meaningful receiving categories to the tune of a 68-896-6 line. It’s true he had four massive games and a bunch of clunkers outside of that, but given the state of the tight end position, that’s upside you’re not getting anywhere else outside of the tried and true studs.
Perhaps Cook will simply chase the largest paycheck and find himself in a poor situation, but at a barren position, his landing spot is almost an afterthought. He was a TE1 in 2018, and people are going to doubt him moving forward. Proceed accordingly.
Potential Compensation: Mid to late third round pick
Adam Humphries, WR TB
This one is pretty simple. Humphries excels at what he does out of the slot, but will likely need a team that features the position. He could just as easily be a better version of Cole Beasley in Dallas, or, well, Cole Beasley in Dallas. Regardless, teams are becoming more pass-happy and 3WR sets are becoming the norm. You can buy accordingly.
Potential Compensation: Late third to early fourth
Kelvin Benjamin, WR KC
Don’t laugh. It’s prudent to remember this man compiled nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns across his first two NFL seasons. He’s shown precious little since, and couldn’t even get on the field for the Chiefs once Sammy Watkins returned healthy for the stretch run. Still, he’s relatively young and offers a big body. We’ve seen crazier resurgences.
Potential Compensation: Late fourth to early fifth (if your league has five rounds)
Latavius Murray, RB MIN
Murray filled in admirably while Dalvin Cook was sidelined, but it’s clear he’s best served as a backup ball carrier. Of course, as evidenced from last year, that can certainly be valuable if the starter falls more toward the fragile end of the spectrum, a la Cook. Especially if you play with more of a “zero RB” mentality,” Murray is a solid speculative stash.
Potential Compensation: Late fourth
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You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.